Lessons from PARCC’s Sudden Rise and Rapid Fall
In 2009, in an effort to get a slice of the program’s $4.35 billion in federal funding, states were incentivized to adopt policies pertaining to things like common standards, performance-based teacher evaluation models, and “developing and implementing common, high-quality assessments.”
The PARCC--The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers--was awarded a $186 million grant over four years to create a test that was able to check those particular boxes. The belief was that a new, data-driven and technology-based assessment that was aligned to the math and ELA Common Core Standards could be the flag-bearer of the next generation of K-12 standardized testing. There were big promises that the PARCC could accurately measure student “readiness to master rigorous academic content, think critically and apply knowledge to solve problems, and conduct research to develop and communicate a point of view.” The PARCC assessment would “foster deep learning and thinking in the classroom.”
These promises never wholly materialized. As a result, what started as a consortium of half of the United States in 2010 has now fallen (as of the time of publication) to just six states, the District of Columbia, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
Following public and political outcry, many of the remaining consortium states like Illinois, Massachusetts, and Louisiana have shifted toward hybrids of PARCC and their own state tests. Meanwhile, other consortium states like Maryland and New Jersey may be poised to be the next to jump ship entirely.
What does the PARCC’s precipitous rise and momentous decline mean for the future of high-stakes testing?
Testing should not disrupt quality instruction
One of the biggest complaints about standardized testing in schools is that it takes time away from teaching and learning. Assessment is certainly a key part in the education process, but when testing drags out over hours and days, quality instruction finds itself bumped to the back burner.
The PARCC has drawn notable ire for this. In its initial form, the assessment required students to test not once, but twice in a given year. In 2015, as participating states began to dwindle, the PARCC was reduced to a single yearly administration instead of two. Still, many argue that the PARCC poses a drain on instructional time and resources even in its newer format, in which
- Instructional time is traded for test prep in order to prepare for increasingly complex and (some would say unfairly) rigorous test content
- Professional development time is repurposed to discuss test instructions, software navigation, and compliance rules
- Teachers are transformed from highly qualified educators to script-reading proctors during test windows
- Resources like classroom devices, computer labs, and media centers are co-opted in service of the test rather than being utilized by students and teachers for instruction (Since the PARCC test is primarily distributed as an online assessment)
It should come as little surprise that as public and political awareness has grown about the impact of PARCC testing on students’ learning experiences, so has the backlash.
CONTINUED NEXT WEEK: overwhelmed budgets and underwhelming data--the cost and disappointing return on standardized testing systems like PARCC.